There are two main types of breast cancer testing, screening tests and diagnostic tests.
Screening tests should occur on a regular basis and Diagnostic tests become necessary when breast cancer is suspected or has been diagnosed.
Breast Self Exams
As discussed in the prior post, a breast self exam is vital and should be a part of a woman's monthly routine.
I went for my first mammogram a couple of weeks prior to my 40th birthday this April.
Usually you hear a lot of horror stories about how it hurts and how uncomfortable it is but I have to say that my exam was pretty uneventful.
I think the fact that my breasts are a glorious 44DD made the exam easier. ;0)
But really, the pulling and squishing that took place, while it made me roll my eyes a bit, because who really wants a stranger getting all that intimate with ya girls, was worth it for the peace of mind that came when my results arrived showing that all was well.
Anyway, back to the important stuff!
A mammograms is an x-ray of the breast. This test may find tumors that are too small to feel. It may also find abnormal cells in the lining of a breast duct, which may become invasive cancer in some women.
The ability of a mammogram to find breast cancer may depend on the size of the tumor, the density of the breast tissue, and the skill of the radiologist.
Along with monthly breast self exams, annual mammograms should be part of every healthy woman's routine.
Clinical Breast Exam
This test is performed by a doctor who will carefully feel the breasts and under the arms for lumps or anything else that seems unusual.
The type of diagnostic tests given will depend a lot on if it is believed that the cancer is Non-invasive ("in situ") or Invasive (infiltrating).
Non-invasive cancers confine themselves to the ducts or lobules and do not spread to the surrounding tissues in the breast or other parts of the body. They can, however, develop into or raise your risk for a more serious, invasive cancer.
Invasive cancers have started to break through normal breast tissue barriers and invade surrounding areas.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
A MRI uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body.
Screening trials of MRI in women with a high genetic risk of breast cancer have shown that MRI is more sensitive than mammography for finding breast tumors.
Some doctors order "cancer markers" or "tumor markers" to detect possible cancer activity in the body. If cancer is present, it will usually produce a specific protein in the blood, that can serve as a "marker" for the cancer
Doctors may order a bone scan (also called bone scintigraphy) to determine whether cancer has spread to any part of the bone system.
Bone scans begin with an injection of radioactive material that is taken up by the body's bone-making cells. Using a special camera, doctors are able to see these areas of extra bone activity (common in both cancer and arthritis) by detecting the gamma rays emitted by the injected material. These areas appear as dark patches on the film. Any part of the bone can be affected by cancer
Chest X-rays may be performed in women who have or may have breast cancer to evaluate the slim possibility that the cancer may have spread to the lungs.
PET Scans (Positron Emission Tomography)
PET scans are still in the experimental limited use phase, and are one of the newest breast cancer diagnostic techniques. During this procedure, a patient is injected with a small amount of radioactive material. Active cells, which often indicate rapid cancer growth, take up the radioactive material. This helps radiologists identify areas where cells are suspiciously active, which can indicate cancer.
Breast tissue sampling invloves taking cells from breast tissue to examine under a microscope. Abnormal cells in breast fluid have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer in some studies.
Scientists are studying whether breast tissue sampling can be used to find breast cancer at an early stage or predict the risk of developing breast cancer.
Three methods of tissue sampling are under study:
* Fine-needle aspiration: A thin needle is inserted into the breast tissue around the areola (darkened area around the nipple) to withdraw cells and fluid.
* Nipple aspiration: The use of gentle suction to collect fluid through the nipple. This is done with a device similar to the breast pumps used by nursing women.
* Ductal lavage: A hair-size catheter (tube) is inserted into the nipple and a small amount of salt water is released into the duct. The water picks up breast cells and is removed.
These are just a few of the tests used for detecting breast cancer.
Thankfully in additon to these, there are new tests and drugs such as Tamoxifen being developed and research constantly being conducted to eradicate this disease.
Sources: BreastCancer.org NationalCancerInstitute
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